Finding God in All the Wrong People: Peter

Scripture: Acts 2:14-17, 37-42
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
May 22, 2016

I would like to ask a series of questions.  Now these questions may be a bit difficult to answer but I would like you to feel free to be honest with your answers.  And at the end of these series of questions I will be honest with you too.

  • Raise your hand if you have ever jaywalked.
  • Raise your hand if you have ever run a yellow light.
  • Raise your hand if you have ever told a white lie.
  • Raise your hand if you have ever told a huge, gigantic lie.
  • How many of you have ever toilet papered a house?
  • How many of you drank an alcoholic beverage under the age of 21?
  • How many of you have ever stolen anything?
  • How many of you have ever cheated on a test?
  • How many of you have ever run away from the cops?
  • How many of you wish I would stop asking these questions?

Do not fear.  I can personally say “yes” to each one of these questions.  Yes, I have jaywalked.  Yes I have run a yellow light.  Yes, I have told a little white lie to spare another’s feelings.  Yes, I a huge lie to my first grade teacher to save myself from ridicule.  Yes I drank a beer in high school with my friends.  Yes, I toilet papered a house in Jr. High School and got caught by the police.  Yes, I stole life-savers from a grocery store as a kid.  Yes, I cheated on a test in Chemistry (writing answers on my hand) that I still ended up failing.  Yes, a group of friends and I got caught walking the streets of Palm Springs after curfew, but fortunately the cop who stopped us got another call and asked us to stay put until he got back.  He went one direction and we ran in the other direction.  

By now, some of you may be wondering what in the heck the Search Committee was thinking when they called me to be your pastor? Perhaps you are wondering if they did a thorough enough job in checking out my background.  And who could blame you?  After all, we would expect that ministers, of all ppl, would live a life worthy of their calling in Christ Jesus.  But even ministers are not immune to poor judgment, unguarded moments, and moral failure.

After all, look at St. Peter, the one whom Jesus appointed as the head of the church, the leader of the disciples, the inheritor of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes, Peter was not just one of the 12 disciples, he was one of the 3 disciples – that is, there were three disciples who had a very special relationship with Jesus– Peter, James and John.  Peter was one of these three – one of the very closest disciples to Jesus; he was in the inner circle.  He was the Cream of the Crop, the Top of the Top.  Even with all those credentials St. Peter exercises a moment of poor judgment and moral depravity.  I hate to admit it, but Peter makes me feel good about myself.

Let me paint a picture of Peter.  Peter is brash, bold, passionate, bighearted, and at times stubborn.  He is always rushing into things, speaking before he thinks, and doing what others would not dare do.  “Right or wrong, he is always the first one of the gate, the first one to leave his fish net and follow Jesus (that is, Peter is the first disciple),  the first one to volunteer his opinion on any given subject.  Sometimes it is hard to say whether he is courageous or just plain reckless” (Barbara Brown Taylor, The Seeds of Heaven, pg. 72), but regardless Jesus pronounces Peter the rock upon which the church will be built.

Now a rock isn’t the prettiest thing in creation or the fanciest or the smartest and if gets rolling the wrong direction, watch out.

There was the day the disciples saw Jesus walking on water and Peter decided to tried to step out and meet Jesus.  Well, he took a few steps before he started to sink like. . . well, like a rock. . . and Jesus had to rescue him.

And then there was the time that Peter, the Rock became Peter, the Stumbling Stone.  Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  And Peter like an eager student who knows the answer, waves his arm in the air, his body rising out of his seat says, “Call on me.  I know the answer.  You are the Christ.”

And I really think that Peter thought that was the end of it.  But then what follows next blows Peter away.  Jesus says, “OK, now that you have made your confession prepare to take up your cross and follow me.”  What Jesus is saying is, “I’m headed for Jerusalem.”

Yes, there is a difference between Galilee and Jerusalem.  Galilee means weekend retreats, Bible studies, sitting in worship and praising God.  Jerusalem means sacrifice, taking up our cross and following Jesus. Galilee is safe.  Jerusalem is dangerous.

Peter says, “Excuse me, Jesus, we need to talk.    I thought we were staying in Galilee?  Galilee is our home; it’s where you’ve been teaching us.  People love you in Galilee.  The crowds are crazy about you in Galilee.  Why in the world would you want to go to Jerusalem?”  And Jesus rebukes Peter and says, “Get behind me Satan!”  It’s a terrible scene, Jesus is frustrated and angry with Peter.   It is the worst argument in the entire ministry of Jesus.   

And as the disciples take up their cross and follow Jesus into Jerusalem, Peter puts his other foot in his mouth.  Old proud Peter says, “Don’t worry Lord.  These other losers may leave you – but not me.  I’m willing to go to prison for you.  Why, I’m willing to die for you.”  And Jesus said, “Peter, before the rooster crows, you’ll disown me not once, not twice, but three times.”  “No way, Lord” Peter said, “you don’t know me.”  

Following the Last Supper, Jesus and the disciples leave the Upper Room and go to the Garden of Gethsemane.   Jesus is arrested.

As Jesus is being led away and the disciples flee… Peter follows the guards, through the shadows, at a distance, as they take Jesus to Caiaphas’ house.  But Peter’s courage lasts only to a point, for he stands in the high priest’s courtyard warming himself by a charcoal fire. A servant girl recognizes Peter.  “Hey, you are a disciple of Jesus.”  “No,” said Peter, “I am not.”  Another man said, “I can tell by your accent, you’re a Galilean, you’re one of Jesus’ men.”  Galileans were considered to be hicks from the county, so I can just hear Peter changing his accent and saying, “No, you must be mistaken.  I don’t know the man.”  By now, Peter is sweating bullets and they crowd around him.  Paranoia strikes deep into Peter’s heart.  Another says, “You are a disciple of Jesus.”  Then Peter cursed like the sailor he was and says, “May I be damned if I know that Jesus.”  And just at that moment the rooster crowed.   And scripture says that when the rooster crowed, Peter went out and wept bitterly.  Peter the Courageous becomes Peter the coward and the rock crumbled.

Have you ever heard a rooster crow?  I did. I went to Yale Divinity School and during finals week, I would stay up day and night studying for those brutal exams.  One evening I remember studying for my New Testament exam.  I went to a little all-night diner, ordered a cup of coffee and took a break from my exams.  Now Yale, believe it or not, is in sixth poorest city in the nation — Yale is in the city of New Haven, Connecticut.  I remember passing a woman on the street carrying a crying infant, she asked me for money so that she could buy some diapers and some food.  I ignored her; after all, I had a lot on my mind — I was going to take the New Testament exam from Dr. Leander Keck the next morning.  The woman then said, “God bless you, sister.”  I went into the coffee shop, ordered a cup of coffee, self-absorbed with thoughts about the New Testament.  As I left the diner that night to head back to my dorm room, I passed the mother and baby — a homeless man was sharing with the mother and baby his half-eaten pizza.  I didn’t say anything to them.  I didn’t sit beside them on the curb, on the edge.  I didn’t do anything.  I was thinking about the questions coming up on the New Testament exam.  And I left the little place, went up the hill back to my room to resume my studies, and off in the distance I could swear that I heard a cock crow.

Like Peter, I succumbed to self-preservation.  “At the core of every sin is our alienation from one another.  At the core of every sin is radical self-absorption.  Sin is our out-of-touchness with the fact that we are in relationship with each other” (Carter Heyward).  Think about those unguarded moments in your own life when you stunned yourself with a lack of spiritual maturity.  Think about those moments of radical self-absorption:  maybe you betrayed a friendship, or deceived a partner, or lied for purposes of self-preservation.  If you have ever had one of those moments, then you can identify with Peter.

If the cock crowing were the end of Peter’s story, it would be a sad tragedy indeed.  But fortunately there was more to Peter’s story then he could have possibly known at that point.  Several days later after the resurrection, there was a second charcoal fire.  I preached about this just a few weeks ago.  Around that second charcoal fire, Jesus asked, “Peter, do you love me?  Peter, do you love me?  Peter, do you love me?”  And Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.  I love you. I love you.”  A threefold denial followed by a threefold affirmation.  Three times Peter denied Jesus by a charcoal fire.  Three times Jesus restored Peter to love and life around a charcoal fire.

It was such a powerful moment for Peter that just 50 days later Peter boldly preached to thousands of people in Jerusalem.  Our scripture passage says this. On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit.  They were ecstatic and excited.  So profound is this sense of power that they tumble down the stairs as words tumble from their mouths.  They sing and shout and pray and prophesy – they create so much noise that the whole town comes running to see what in the world is going on.

Some of the bystanders say, “Oh, those guys are just a bunch of drunks.”  After all, earlier in the gospel, Jesus has been accused of being a “glutton and a wine bibber.”  And so the crowd outside in the streets says, “Those disciples of Jesus are doing the same thing they did when Jesus was with they, they’re drunk on cheap wine!”  And then comes my favorite line in the entire story, Peter says, “These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect.  Heck, they haven’t had time to get drunk – it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, these people are filled with the Holy Spirit!”

And when the Holy Spirit fills our souls, it is like we are drunk.  Words come tumbling from our mouths – the timid become brave, the reserved are full of love.  Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, stood up, raised his voice and addressed the crowd and those who accepted his message (which came out of his mess) were baptized about three thousand, scripture tells us. I wish I could preach like that!  Yes, Peter had a past, but he also had a future.

And so do we – even if we have lied, cheated and denied Christ –we, too, have a future ahead of us.  That is what we call grace.  Grace is a gift that is too good to be true, but it is so good it must be true.

Peter may not exhibit the flawless character, the deep intellect, or the spiritual maturity that I would prefer in the leader of my church, but let me say that I am really glad that he is the one who holds the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.  Because someone like Peter can understand someone like me.